A job? Well done.

One of the ways that mothers seek to talk about the value of their mothering is to say: this is my job. This is hard, skilled work that takes up much of my time and brainspace; this is something that matters and produces an end result: this is a job with the value of other people’s jobs, it’s just not (mostly, directly) paid.

But when we say it’s a job, we do two things: firstly, we accept that value to the economy is “real” value, and only by being “just like” that can mothering (and other parenting) have real value. Secondly, when we take on that metaphor, we take on a whole load of others, and lose the power to talk about our lives in our terms.

First things first: parenting contributes to the economy, sure. It doesn’t directly promote ecomonic growth, as working out of the home and paying someone else to mind your child during the day does, though, so you may find that your hard graft doesn’t wind up on the right balance sheet (thanks to Ruth for that link). But, for example, breastfeeding saves the NHS money; I think we (defining “we” as “people who don’t have a vested interest in selling formula milk”) agree that’s a good thing.

However, I just don’t think that arguing parenting as an economically vital activity is helpful. Because some of the things I value doing as a parent are not helping any economy. Collecting shells on the beach? Making up silly words to the Postman Pat theme song? Deciding that, for my own sanity, saying “bloody” doesn’t count as swearing in front of the kids? Whatever. Value is in fun and joy and the search for myself within my parenting. Let’s say that clearly. Let’s question any society that doesn’t hear us say it.

And as for money? We shouldn’t be paid for parenting. All human beings deserve the dignity of a basic income, parents and children as much as any other. Humanity is the test, not sweated labour. Even if you’re just having fun, you shouldn’t starve.

And the other reason? The metaphorical one? That’s a slippery eel to wrestle (see? See what I did there?). It starts with pregnancy – Carol Tavris, in The Mismeasure of Woman, discusses the ways in which pregnant women are conceptualised when their rights are debated. Just the same as a temporary disability? And then, Tavris uses a suggestion by Zillah Eisenstein: what if, instead of conceptualising the “normal” body as that of a man, and legislating exceptions from that, we said that the “normal” body was that of a pregnant woman? All of a sudden, the world changes:

The law, she shows, would immediately have to become more complex and sensitive to human diversity than it is, because pregnancies range from being uncomplicated and uneventful to being seriously disabling to the mother-to-be, and because some women, like all men, will not become pregnant.

And I experience it, too, in discussions about childbirth. Is it painful? Well, we take painkillers for a broken leg, don’t we? Why wouldn’t you want to be in hospital when there’s pain and blood and risk? Well, because it’s not like having a broken leg, it’s not a dysfunction, it doesn’t need correction: it’s childbirth. It is as it is. And why must we always talk about it in terms accessible to those who haven’t experienced it? Let them come to us. Let them use our words for a change.

And then it goes on. Are you as tired after a week of broken sleep with a teething baby as I am after my nightshift? Am I as stressed about potty training as you are about your appraisal? Is my acheivement in negotiating the kids’ bedtime as important as the training I delivered at my paid employment? For the second time this post: whatever. I’m not going to speak that language. I’m not going to talk myself into knots to justify myself.

My parenting is not a job (though sometimes it’s hard work). My kids’ play is not their job either (though it’s essential for their development). We work, we play, we parent, we watch TV, we fart, we stare into the middle distance and think about sex. We are human, and we have value. That may be a hippie thing to say; it may be a socialist thing to say (I plead guilty to both). Whatever.

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5 Responses to A job? Well done.

  1. I think you needed to start this with your assumptions. There are lots of terms here that need defining. Is a “job” only something that someone will pay you to do? Well, most (though not all) of the tasks of mothering are waged labor if done by someone other than the person who gave birth to that particular child. Is value to the economy defined only by contributing to “economic growth” (whatever that means)? Then many corporate vice presidents and members of government have no jobs (despite having offices and wages and staff).

    I *am* a socialist, and I don’t see what you are trying to say here.

  2. msruthmoss says:

    Because some of the things I value doing as a parent are not helping any economy. Collecting shells on the beach? Making up silly words to the Postman Pat theme song?

    If you were a nursery nurse, a nanny, or doing what you do for your own children for anyone else’s children, you’d be paid for it and it would be considered a job.

    This could be because I don’t understand much about socialism but it seems to me there are lots of paid jobs that don’t help the economy, too.

    Also, I get a bit worried when people say that parents shouldn’t be paid, because that’s how I see my child tax credit; a meagre but incredibly important income to me and in my head I frame it as my “wages for my first job” compared to my “wages for my second job”.

  3. msruthmoss says:

    Sorry, is early morning and I can’t think coherently hence two comments.

    The basic income idea I think is a good one, but surely if you have children you need a higher one just to be able to afford to live?

    See, I understand what you’re saying about metaphors and how if we compare parenting to other jobs (well, certain other jobs, because I do think that childcare/cleaning/teaching/caring professions have a lot in common with parenting and make use of similar metaphors) we’re losing the right to talk about our lives in our own terms.

    But I’d happily give up that right if it meant I could afford to give up my paid job for another year or so and spend the extra time raising my child. If that makes sense.

  4. Kate says:

    Basic income is for everyone, including children (usually proposed as a lower rate). So as your child’s carer, you’d administer their CI, which would be enough for them to live on. I only say parenting shouldn’t be paid specifically because I think everyone should be paid.

    Yes, so I could be paid to play with children if they weren’t mine – so? When I worked as a cleaner I was paid to hoover and wash up, which I do for free, too. I’ve been paid to help people play computer games, for which they were paid, too. My point really is: jobs shouldn’t be the yardstick for measuring worth. We live life, and that is a valuable thing to do. Jobs are only part of it, and whenever we put them at the centre of life rather than in a more proportionate place, we concede that they’re more important than humanity.

  5. Ruth Moss says:

    Jobs shouldn’t be the yardstick for measuring worth. We live life, and that is a valuable thing to do. Jobs are only part of it, and whenever we put them at the centre of life rather than in a more proportionate place, we concede that they’re more important than humanity.

    Now, I agree with that. I really do. And the “basic income” idea sounds ideal, yes.

    But currently, while jobs are considered the yardstick for measuring worth, and they are the only way of receiving enough to live on, I want my parenting to be considered a job. Because until then, currently it’s considered “less than”, something unimportant and occasionally thrown the “it’s the hardest/bestest job in teh world!!” treatment, to – in my mind – detract from the fact it’s not respected or valued at all.

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